Better quality coming for some Skype calls

Software that improves Skype PC call quality is now available to makers of other Skype-enabled devices.

Software in the Skype PC client that enhances call quality is now coming to dedicated devices such as mobile phones that use the peer-to-peer voice service.

Global IP Sound (GIPS) on Monday announced a deal with Skype, a unit of eBay, in which it will license its GIPS VoiceEngine software to manufacturers of Skype-compatible devices. Skype licensed Global IP Sound's technology in 2003 for its PC VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) software, but until now, non-PC devices that can make Skype calls haven't had it. The deal will put GIPS VoiceEngine into software Skype provides for devices such as mobile handsets and ATAs (analog telephone adapters), said Gary Hermansen, president and chief executive officer of GIPS.

Skype, free software that allows free calls among Skype users, has helped to spur the growing popularity of VOIP. Carriers have been breaking voice calls into IP packets for years in the core of their networks, but this type of call is now common all the way across networks through service providers such as Vonage Holdings. GIPS was founded in 1999 and started in network cores, Hermansen said. Nortel Networks is still its biggest customer. VoiceEngine is a media processing software framework that includes codecs (compression-decompression algorithms) and other components. It is designed to solve problems such as echo and choppy sound that can happen because data networks aren't designed to carry voice.

Skype originally worked just on PCs but is now available on devices such as cordless phones and ATAs, which link traditional phones to broadband connections for VOIP calls. VOIP is now spreading to mobile devices such as dedicated Wi-Fi handsets and dual-mode cell/Wi-Fi phones. They give users a way to make mobile calls without paying for minutes and in some cases to get better call quality where cellular coverage is weak. Some mobile operators are looking to Wi-Fi as a way to effectively extend their coverage, spread out demand for data capacity and keep customers happy.

Device makers are ahead of the curve, already selling handheld VOIP devices. Samsung Electronics Co. recently agreed to use GIPS VoiceEngine in upcoming dual-mode cellular and Wi-Fi phones as well as ATAs. This month GIPS announced a key deal with Texas Instruments (TI) to get its codecs into TI's chips, which are widely used in ATAs and mobile phones.

But devices such as the Linksys Internet Telephony Kit that use Skype haven't included the GIPS software that is in every downloaded Skype PC client, Hermansen said. Under the deal announced Monday, GIPS would approach vendors such as Linksys, a Cisco Systems division, to license that technology.

Skype calls on mobile devices already sound pretty good, and the addition of the Global IP Sound technology should provide an incremental boost, said IDC analyst Will Stofega. Skype could be both a threat and a partner to mobile operators looking to VOIP, he believes. Some cellular carriers will try to block the service, but others may offer it as a supplement to their regular services or put the popular Skype interface on top of their own cell-phone operating system, he said. International mobile provider Hutchison 3 Group announced in February it would start enabling Skype on its 3G (third-generation) mobile network as an additional choice for customers.

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